Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Texas - 2017 (1)

March 7, 2017.
I left Las Cruces at 2:45 AM and arrived in Fort Davis shortly before 9:00 AM. In El Paso there is a lot of road construction on Interstate 10 and in some places only one lane is available each direction.  
I did not feel like fighting heavy traffic and therefore left early.
Fort Davis is a small town with a population of 2204. Main Street has a few stores.

The largest and most beautiful building is the court house.

We dry camp at a RV Park.
March 8, 2017.
The group went this morning to the McDonald Observatory for the day tour.
I went to the Balmorhea State Park near Balmorhea since I have been to several observatories already.
I had in mind to do some hiking but there were no trails. They have a beautiful campground and a giant swimming pool. The pool gets its water from a hot spring. I went in town and looked for a swimming suit but when I saw the price I did not feel like buying it.
Since I had paid already the park entrance fee, and it was good for all the State Parks for today, I drove to Davis Mountain State Park.
I drove the Skyline Drive and stopped at several outlooks. From the top one has a very good view of the valleys and the Davis Mountains. The campground is just below. There was still smog in the air from the fires.

This Yucca plant is in full bloom.

The Indian Lodge is nestled in a small canyon.

The view from the lodge is spectacular.

On the way home I stopped near Barry Scobee Mountain.

March 9, 2017.
The group went today to Davis Mountain State Park for a hike and lunch at the Indian Lodge. Some went from there to Balmorhea State Park to swim in the large swimming pool. The weather was not perfect this morning and only a few went. Later they were sorry because the temperature went up to 80 degrees F. There was no sun though.
I did my own thing again and went to the Chihuahuan Desert Research Institute -  Nature Center and Botanical Gardens.

I walked the half mile loop. Most trees and bushes are still bare, but this Mexican Redbud was showing off.

At the end of the trail is the cactus greenhouse. Here are a variety of cacti from both sides of the border.

At the grounds is also a small mining display.

I went back to the Visitor Center and from there hiked the Modesta Canyon Trail. I should not have done it alone. Going down the canyon meant being careful not to step on loose rocks and falling in the canyon.

In the canyon it was warm.

When I was up on the canyon rim I sat down and ate my lunch. I watched the cars, down in the valley, going South on highway 118.

At the end of the canyon I took the trail back to the Visitor Center. It was a 2.5 mile hike. It was not easy going down the canyon and coming up again.

My next stop was the Museum of Big Bend, at the Sul Ross State University in Alpine. The museum is small, but modern and free.

When I saw the monument of a horse without a rider I had to investigate. The plaque on the side of the monument gives an explanation.

Inside the museum are several very good displays. The Buffalo Soldiers were stationed here too. They protected the stage coaches, mail service, and the emigrants who were on their way to California. Apaches were a constant threat.

The General Store was small but well stocked.

The Spaniards brought the cart to the new world and this changed how goods were moved.

A copy of a rock painting is in the museum. It is still a mystery what the purpose was.

The campus has some beautiful buildings.

On the way back to Fort Davis I stopped and enjoyed the view of those rock formations. Highway 118 is part of the Texas Mountain Highway. Western Texas is very beautiful. I have never been before in this part of Texas and I am surprised to see mountains, very large valleys and of course Big Bend National Park. Big Bend is one of the few National Parks I have not visited. That was the reason I joined this group.

Fort Davis is hidden in the Valley below.

March 10, 2017.
Today we visited Fort Davis National Historic Site.

The Fort was named after the Secretary of War, Jefferson Davis, who during the Civil War was the president of the Confederacy.
The enlisted men barracks and the commanding officer’s building are in one line facing the parade grounds.

In the enlisted men barrack Tom tried out a bed.

There was a display of a soldier’s uniform. Most of the soldiers stationed at Fort Davis were black . Their officers were white. Because the building is getting a new roof all the furniture and beds were covered with plastic.

We were lucky and had a ranger guiding us.

The commanding officer’s house was furnished. 

The hospital is a short distance from the rest of the fort.

Officers quarters were larger.

Lieutenant Henry O. Flipper was the first black to graduate from West Point.

In the evening we went to the McDonald Observatory to see the Star Show.

Unfortunately it was cloudy and we got our money back.

March 11, 2017.
I left Fort Davis at 7:00 AM and arrived at the Stillwell Ranch and Store, near Big Bend National Park, two hours later. The ranch had 250,000 acres in the past, first at the other side of the Rio Grande River, in Mexico. After the Mexican Revolution the family lost their land. The State of Texas gave them the same amount of acres at the present site. After the older people in the family died, most of the land was sold. The present owner has 8,000 acres and there is no ranching anymore.
There is only the store, a small museum and the RV Park.

We do dry camping next to the RV Park. In a few days we expect many young students, who will be spending part of their spring vacation in Big Bend National Park, it seems to be a study program.

During the 4:00 PM meeting it started to rain. We had to run for our motorhomes, bring the awnings in and close the windows. It was hot today. The rain brought the temperature down.
Rosemary and Dana went outside after the rain and took pictures of the rainbow.

March 12, 2017.
This morning we went to Big Bend National Park. The Rio Grande River has a big 90 degree bend in this area, hence the name Big Bend.

Our first stop was at the Fossil Discovery Exhibit.

Here are displays of fossils found at the park. Some are very large. The animals who lived around here were giants.

The question is, why are they gone?

Our next stop was the Panther Junction Visitor Center.

On a sign was a question. What is the most dangerous animal in the desert?

When I opened the door, there was mirror.

At the Visitor Center theater they have a wonderful film about the desert, the mountains and the river. It was very informative.
The Chisos Mountains are very beautiful.

Barbara, Mike and I hiked the Chisos Mountain Trail. Some of the group did it later. They went first to the restaurant to eat lunch. We had brought our own lunch.

This was a wonderful day.

March 13, 2017.
We went back to the National Park today. The group decided to leave at 8:30 AM. This is too late. It is about 40 miles to the center of the park and the speed limit is 45 MPH.
The plan was to drive the Ross Maxwell Scenic drive to the Santa Elena Canyon and then hike the canyon.
This adds another 30 miles. I left at 7:45 AM and drove in the park before the traffic problems started. The scenic drive went over small mountains and the scenery was beautiful.

When I arrived at the Santa Elena Canyon trail head I got the last parking spot. It is spring break and a lot of young people are in the park for hiking and boating.

The trail goes up. There are concrete steps.

After a while the trail comes down to the river. The Rio Grande is not that grand down here. Most of the water is taken out up-stream.

On my way back canoes were on the river going for an overnight excursion.

There were a lot of people now on the trail.

Yellow flowers were in bloom not far from the river.

Back on the road I enjoyed seeing these blue flowers. I believe they are lupines.

In the camp ground are over two hundred college students. They will stay for a few days.
They stay in small tents

During the day they are in the National Park doing geological mapping. They probably get credit for it. They move around in white vans. There are two showers for women and two for men near the office. In the evening, when the young people come back to the camp ground, there is some activity. The WIFI is super slow then. Most of them are using their hand held devices.

I was back at the motorhome at 2:30 PM. Most of the group arrived at 6:00 PM.

March 14, 2017.
This was another driving day in the park. Most members of the group took it easy. Only three people went for a hike.
I drove to the hot springs with the idea to soak in the warm water and then swim in the Rio Grande.
I went to the restroom at the parking lot and put on my swim suit. Then I walked the quarter mile trail to the hot spring.

I had envisioned a larger place. It is small and next to the river. I decided not to join the people in the pool.
I drove instead to Rio Grande Village Visitor Center. It is one of five in the park. There I watched the ranger swearing in junior rangers.

I would have liked to hike Boquillas Canyon, but it got too warm for that. The border crossing was closed. I wanted to check it out and watch people being taking across the river to Boquillas Del Carmen with row boats. The border is closed Mondays and Tuesdays.

March 15, 2017.
Today was a cleaning and cooking day. I stayed home and made a large broccoli salad, cooked a big head  of cauliflower for the freezer and for lunch made potato pancakes.
Part of the group went to Terlingua Ghost Town. Some people hiked the Lost Mine Trail.

March 16, 2017.
This was another hiking day for me. Five of us hiked the 4.8 mile Chimneys Trail.
Another group took the Lost Mine Trail. It was also a 4.8 hike but with a 1100 feet elevation change.
At 7:30 AM we were on the road to get a parking spot at the trail head.
It was a hike through the desert with only one spot for shade, and we took a small rest there.

On the trail was a rattle snake. I was a bit late and could only get half of the snake on a picture.

We did some climbing on the chimneys and also ate our lunch there.

On one side of the rock formation was a petroglyph.

The yuccas are in full bloom now and some of the cacti are starting to show flowers.

In the evening Mike had Karaoke and it was a lot of fun.

March 17, 2017.
Today we crossed the border, actually the river. The Rio Grande River is the border between the United States and Mexico.
I went on my own because I also wanted to hike the Boquillas Canyon Trail. I left the camping area at 7:30 AM and arrived at the trail head at 8:45 AM.
From the overlook one can see Boquilla Del Carmen, the small town on the Mexican side of the river.

The trail was not too tough to walk.

At several spots Mexican people sell small items on the side of the trail. Nobody is there.  There is a can for depositing the money.

It is very difficult to see the entrance of the canyon. Boquillas means small mouth, and the entrance of the canyon is very narrow. The people on the Mexican side of the river probably can see into the canyon.

On the other side were three burros.

A man on a burro crossed the river and went along on the American side.

He was hollering at men on the other side. There were flat bottom boats stored. They probably go back and forth.

Next to the trail were holes where Indian women were grinding corn, acorns and other food items.

My next stop was the border crossing station. There is nobody from the border patrol, only a park ranger who explains what people can take to Mexico and what one can bring back.

While I was there some of my WIN friends came. They had seven bags with clothing. A worker at the camp ground, and his wife buy clothing from thrift shops and take it to Boquillas Del Carmen. Since we were going he asked us to do the delivery. The bags had names on them.
When the Mexicans, who take people across the river, saw the bags and their names on them they took over.
When we came to the other side of the river there was another place where stuff can be bought.

More people were coming across the river.

Our group took the Boquillas Del Carmen taxis. From the water to the town it is about a quarter mile.

I drove the pick-up truck of one of the Mexican men, loaded with the clothing, to his house. He told me it is a green house on top of the hill. I found the house and his wife was surprised to see a stranger drive their truck. When she saw the bags with clothing she knew why. Her husband had to stay with the people on burros.
There are two very nice restaurants in town.

On the main street almost every house sells something like towels with embroidery on it.

The whole region is a conservation area, just like Big Bend National Park.

There are more towels for sale. While men handle the horses and burros, the women sit there and make those towels and sell them. Tourism is the only income they have. The mines closed down and they try to survive.

The church is very plain.

There are also some houses outside of town.

Main Street is not too busy.

The school had recess and the teacher was playing games with the students.

I took a burro taxi back to the boat. It was a harsh ride. Those saddles are not soft and spring loaded.

At the border station I put my passport in a machine. A border patrol agent in El Paso told me to remove my hat so she could see my face. She asked me what I was bringing back. When I told her that I had nothing she wished me a good day.

This was my last day near Big Bend National Park.
I had a good time and enjoyed especially the Santa Elena Canyon Hike and the hike in the Chisos Mountains.
It would have been a lot easier if we could have stayed in the park instead of staying 36 miles from the Panther Junction Visitor Center. But one has to make reservation for camp sites way ahead and that is not practical for us.

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